Week+4+optional+Peterson++2000++the+future+of+optimism -...

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The Future of Optimism Christopher Peterson University of Michigan Recent theoretical discussions of optimism as an inherent aspect of human nature converge with empirical investiga- tions of optimism as an individual difference to show that optimism can be a highly beneficial psychological charac- teristic linked to good mood, perseverance, achievement, and physical health. Questions remain about optimism as a research topic and more generally as a societal value. Is the meaning of optimism richer than its current conceptu- alization in cognitive terms? Are optimism and pessimism mutually exclusive? What is the relationship between op- timism and reality, and what are the costs of optimistic beliefs that prove to be wrong? How can optimism be cultivated? How does optimism play itself out across dif- ferent cultures? Optimism promises to be one of the im- portant topics of interest to positive social science, as long as it is approached in an even-handed way. O ver the years, optimism has had at best a check- I ered reputation. From Voltaire's (1759) Dr. Pan- gloss, who blathered that we live in the best of all possible worlds, to Porter's (1913) Pollyanna, who celebrated every misfortune befalling herself and others, to politicians who compete vigorously to see who can best spin embarrassing news into something wonderful, so- called optimism has often given thoughtful people pause. Connotations of naivete and denial have adhered to the notion. In recent years, however, optimism has become a more respectable stance, even among the sophisticated. Research by a number of psychologists has docu- mented diverse benefits of optimism and concomitant drawbacks of pessimism. Optimism, conceptualized and assessed in a variety of ways, has been linked to positive mood and good morale; to perseverance and effective prob- lem solving; to academic, athletic, military, occupational, and political success; to popularity; to good health; and even to long life and freedom from trauma. Pessimism, in contrast, foreshadows depression, passivity, failure, social estrangement, morbidity, and mortality. These lines of re- search are surprisingly uniform, so much so that an opti- mism bandwagon has been created, within psychology as well as the general public (Gillham, in press). We see an interest in how optimism can be encouraged among the young and how pessimism can be reversed among the old. The future of optimism appears rosy indeed. Or does it? I begin this article with a review of what psychologists have learned about optimism, but my eventual purpose is to discuss its future both as a research interest of psycholo- gists and as a social value. I believe that these futures are entwined, perhaps too much so. Optimism as a research topic has flourished in the contemporary United States precisely while people in general have become more hope- ful about the future. The danger of this coupling is twofold. First, some of the documented benefits of optimism--at least as typically studied--may be bounded. Optimism in some circum-
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This note was uploaded on 12/02/2010 for the course PSYCH PSY BEH P2 taught by Professor Susanturkcharles during the Fall '10 term at UC Irvine.

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Week+4+optional+Peterson++2000++the+future+of+optimism -...

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